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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Charity worker faces longer jail term in Iran after UK minister’s gaffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's employers insist she was detained during a family trip after Britain’s foreign minister said she was there to train journalists

Supporters hold a picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who faces a longer jail term in Iran for what her supporters claim are trumped up charges.  Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Supporters hold a picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who faces a longer jail term in Iran for what her supporters claim are trumped up charges. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

A charity worker jailed in Iran faces a potential extended sentence for spreading anti-regime propaganda after Britain’s foreign minister claimed she had been in the country teaching journalists, her employers said Monday.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been in custody for attempting to topple the regime since April 2016, was hauled back to court on Saturday, four days after Boris Johnson mentioned her case at a meeting with MPs.

Mr Johnson said that he had repeatedly raised her case with his Iranian counterpart and added: “When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit.”

Her employers and supporters say that she was in Iran purely for family reasons and was about to return to the UK with her two-year-old daughter when she was arrested.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news organisation, and formerly the BBC.

The Iranian regime accuses her of being paid by her employers to work against the regime. Thomson Reuters officials said she was not a journalist, did not train journalists and was not in the country in any official capacity.

“She was in Iran on holiday to show her daughter Gabriella to her grandparents when she was arrested at Tehran Airport,” said Monique Villa, the chief executive of the foundation.

“I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazanin has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into Court on Saturday 4 November and accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the regime’.”

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Her case is being heard by Abolghassem Salavati, a notoriously hard-line judge who has presided over cases involving government critics, handing out harsh sentences.

“This accusation from Judge Salavati can only worsen her sentence. She is obviously a bargaining chip between the UK government and Iran and this injustice must stop as soon as possible,” said Ms Villa.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, a Briton, told the Times newspaper that she potentially faced a double sentence as a result of Mr Johnson’s comments. He has previously criticised the UK government of doing too little to help the dual UK-Iranian national.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was initially jailed for five years based on secret charges after she was arrested at Tehran airport.

She was brought before a court last month and warned that she could face a further 16 years in jail.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of several dual nationals held in Iran on espionage charges. She has spent months in solitary confinement and is suffering from depression and physical problems, according to her supporters.

Dual nationals are not recognised by Iran, do not receive consular assistance and often face secret charges in closed-door hearings. A UN panel of experts said the practice was part of an emerging pattern since the 2015 Iran nuclear detail.

His comments were seized upon by Iranian judicial officials as shedding new light on the situation of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

In a statement, Mr Johnson did not retract his comments but said they provided “no justifiable basis” to bring extra charges. He said the government was seeking her release on “humanitarian grounds”.

Mr Johnson would be “calling the Iranian Foreign Minister to raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented.”